Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six
Back in July 25 to August 3, 2009, Norma and I visited Maine. While the weather and the mosquitos weren't the most cooperative, we had a good time and I felt that it was worth a return trip to a different section.
A few weeks after our visit, several people in the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) did some primitive kayak camping on the islands just south of Stonington, Maine. A prerequisite to this was obtaining island camping permits from the Maine Island Trail Association. Their visit was the week of Labor Day weekend and unlike our visit, these lucky folks had fantastic weather with few biting insects.
In early 2011, I spoke to some folks who were considering renting a house in Stonington in the second half of September. At first I was ready to jump at the opportunity to join them until I started to read about the air and water temperatures at this time of year:
Weather Underground historical high daily temperatures (in fahrenheit) for Stonington, Maine:
August 26: 74
September 2: 69
September 9: 70
September 16: 63
September 23: 65
NOAA water temperatures (in fahrenheit) for Bar Harbor, Maine:
August 16-31: 60
September 1-15: 58
September 16-30: 57
With me typically paddling a sit-on-top and having a tendency to get cold, I thought that visiting a few weeks earlier might be better so I opted out of this organized trip and started organizing my own.
I looked at the various rental homes in the Stonington area at A Better View Vacation Rentals. After getting an idea of who all might be interested in joining me, I reserved Amy's Cottage right in downtown Stonington near the water. Norma, Vince, Bowen, Kellie, and Geoff planned to join me.
All looked good up until late August. Hurricane Irene was making her way north along the Atlantic coast and wreaking devastation on her path. Vince, Bowen, and Kellie were smart and beat the hurricane (downgraded to a tropical storm) by leaving on Friday, August 26. That was also the initial plan for Norma and I but after three consecutive nights of working late, Norma wasn't feeling very good...plus she still had to pack. We decided to wait until the next morning to leave. But after checking the news, we learned that 370,000 people from New York City were being evaculated from low lying areas. Driving through New York City can be a headache even with relatively light traffic. We certainly didn't want to try making it through during an evacuation so we decided to wait until the storm passed.
On late Saturday, August 27, 2011, the heavy winds and rains came. It rained about 3 inches. The average wind speed from the north was 21.8 mph with the highest gust speed 59 mph. The rain was enough to soften the ground and leave trees with shallow root systems prone to wind damage. Geoff informed me that he would have to work for the next few days because of the storm so he wouldn't be joining us. Such a shame. Vince and Bowen sent me a text message to tell me that they arrived at the house safely. Apparently, the house was a bit hard to find since there are multiple Main Streets in Stonington. Ours was at a bend in the road across from the Mobil gas building. But the whole day wasn't bad and I managed to find time to put up chain link fence and get some other chores done.
On Sunday, August 28, 2011, the highest gust speed was 60 mph! During the night we lost power. With Norma's family owning a beef farm, we have lots of frozen meat in a chest freezer. If it went bad, we'd be in trouble. If we left for a week in Maine without the power returning, then we might return to find a refrigerator full of maggots (this actually happened to a friend of mine) or mold. So we decided to wait until the power returned before starting our vacation. It returned about 20 hours later at about 2300. Being packed up and ready to go meant we were on the road on our way to Maine only 10 minutes after the lights came on.
Though it would have been nice to leave before Irene hit Maryland, in retrospect, waiting until the storm passed might have been a good thing as one of our small fruit trees was blown over and had to be replanted and staked.
Day One, Monday, August 29, 2011
Driving long distances at night is something Norma and I do well. We take turns driving and help each other with navigation at the more confusing sections. Even big metropolises tend to be light on traffic at 0300 which is nice.
In Maine, we stopped at Camden Hills State Park just north of Camden. We walked about 4.5 miles on the Nature Trail and Tablelands Trail to Ocean Lookout, just 85 feet below Mount Megunticook, the highest mainland mountain on the Atlantic coast. It felt good to stretch our legs after driving for the last 12 hours. The view was great. See first and second photos. We could clearly see Camden to our south along with several island to our east comprising Islesboro.
Next we walked to Adam's Lookout (not much of a view) for a nap and continued back to the parking lot on Magunticook Trail.
Norma and I then drove to another parking lot in the park and walked to the Battie Tower, near Mount Battie. See third photo. Here a sign described the Penobscot Bay to our east:
Penobscot Bay, bearing the same name as the Native American tribe indigenous to this region, is Maine's largest bay. At approximately 30 miles long and 30 miles wide, Penobscot Bay contains hundreds of islands. The bay originates at the mouth of the Penobscot River and once served as the gateway to Bangor, the 19th-century lumber capital of the world. [It is] widely considered one of the most picturesque landscapes along the Atlantic seaboard...
The view from this location was also nice. See fourth photo.
Continuing our drive east, we stopped along the side of the road to see the Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Bucksport. See first photo.
Before stopping at the vacation home, Norma and I stopped at Old Quarry Ocean Adventures outfitters and campground to talk to people about kayaking and to buy maps. The best map for that area (in my opinion) is the "Hiking Trails and Public Access" map by the Island Heritage Trust. After buying it, I used it several times a day. It also led us to numerous scenic walks.
Nineteen hours after we left home, we finally arrived at Amy's Cottage around 1800, in time to eat a fine dinner prepared by Vince. This old home is a 1905 Fullerton model "kit house" purchased from Sears Roebuck & Company. Vince was the first to arrive and despite the description stating that it would be ready by 1600, it was not. Furthermore, the cleaning people did not take the trash left behind by the previous occupants. The house is in fair condition. Some of the button-style switches remind me of my grandfather's old farm house. The floors aren't in the best of shape, the stove doesn't light so easily, and the refrigerator needs a little help to close but overall, things are in working order, the location is nice, and it is plenty big enough for 6 people. It was relatively inexpensive once the price got split amongst the guests and that, along with the location, was my main motivation. In my opinion, it is sufficient for a week's stay and worth the cost.
It was good to see everyone.
Day Two, Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Bowen and Kellie drove out to spend the day at Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park while Vince, Norma, and I drove less than a half mile to the public boat ramp at the end of Seabreeze Avenue. The three of us launched at about 0830. Check out the view from the launch area in the first photo.
High tide at Stonington would be at 1214. This tide would be 12.8 feet higher than the low tide, just 6 hours and 12 minutes prior.
See me on our way out from the launch area in the second photo.
In addition to hearing good things about this area from other kayakers, I also read the following:
At the southern end of Deer Isle off Stonington lies a collection of islands in Merchant Row, navigable by the Deer Island Thorofare. The islands are probably the best place on the entire East Coast to paddle because they are so plentiful and offer a great deal of protection; many are state owned and provide several camping options. Beyond that, all possess individual beauty, gravel beaches, dark green spruce, and clear Caribbean blue-green water. You will probably feel more like Robinson Crusoe in Merchant Row than at any other place on the New England coast.
- from Sea Kayaking Along the New England Coast, second edition, by Tamsin Venn
In terms of easily accessible islands, I might agree with Venn. But what Norma and I really enjoy is looking for critters. How much interesting wildlife would be see during our stay? That is a huge factor in how I rate a place for its kayakability.
Within the first 10 minutes, we saw a seal right in the Stonington Harbor. Unfortunately, like most critters, it didn't stick around long enough for us to get a photo of it. Sadly, it was the only seal we saw all day. Taking pictures of inanimate objects like the pseudo-lighthouse in the third photo was much easier.
We paddled southwest to Crotch Island. We kayaked west up the "crotch" of the island which is home to an old granite quarry. Seeing the huge piles of cut granite shoot straight out of the water was really different, to say the least.
Fourth photo: Big cut pieces of granite come right to the calm, protected waters.
Fifth photo: Vince checks out the cut stones.
Sixth photo: Seaweed, granite, crane (machine, not bird) holding an osprey nest, and Vince.
Next, we headed east to Rock Island. Here we landed on a big sandy beach and explored. See the seventh photo with Stonington in the background. There were some small wooded paths that cut across the island and a big open area suitable for camping (eighth photo). This is one of the islands owned by the Maine Island Trail Association. A sign stated that a group of up to 8 could stay there for a maximum of 2 nights. There were lots of wild pink roses (ninth photo). We found an old sea urchin (tenth photo). Sadly, we would not find any living ones during our entire trip.
Every time I paddle with Vince, he picks up trash and properly disposes of it at the end of the day. This trip was no exception. But in addition to regular trash, he also collected lobster buoys that had washed ashore (eleventh photo). It is his just way of helping keep the places he paddles a little nicer. While Vince was out picking up litter, the tide rose. We were only on Rock Island for about a half hour but that was long enough. His kayak started to float away. My nose was buried in a map so if it wasn't for Norma saying something, Vince might have had to swim back to the launch area. We retrieved his boat before it got far. The tide rises (or lowers) about one foot every half hour so it is extremely important to bring your boat far ashore before exploring during the flood tide.
Several lobstermen were out working hard.
Continuing south, we passed Potato Island (one of at least three in the area) and landed at another large beach. Here is where my memory fades a bit. There were soooo many island in the area. We either passed close by or landed. For now, I'm assuming we landed since I don't know where else some of my photos would correspond if it wasn't Potato Island. We saw our first starfish. At first, I didn't know what it was. There were about 5 of them in various conditions (none were good). I think something tore them apart and maybe tried to eat them. Only one appeared to be whole. Sadly, we would not find any living starfish in good condition during our stay. These were in such bad shape that I'm ashamed to show them.
Twelfth photo: Norma looks for sea life.
Thirteenth photo: Vince photographs the scenery...but right now he IS the scenery.
Fourteenth photo: Pebbley beach.
Fifteenth photo: It was good to know we weren't the only kayakers out enjoying the nice Stonington day.
We ventured onto Steve Island. A kayaker at Rock Island said Steve Island was very scenic so we decided to find out for ourselves. Norma and I landed while Vince stayed in his boat (sixteenth photo). I didn't think the island was so great. I walked around it and didn't see much. Most of the interior was heavily wooded so I climbed around rocks on the perimeter to get around. Nearing back where I started, I decided it was faster to swim across one short section rather than walk. So I dog paddled through the fairly clear, calm, and cold water back to my Ocean Kayak Cabo tandem sit-on-top. See seventeenth photo. Even with a wetsuit, I wouldn't want to stay in that water for long. Fortunately, the day was sunny, warm (low 70s), and dry so I warmed up quickly once I got out. The weather was expected to be like this through Friday. We couldn't have asked for better weather. Mosquitos were a problem on some of the islands but overall, they weren't too bad.
Our next stop was Little George Head Island to our west. My experience with islands in the area during the week has generally been that many of the larger islands have mature pine forests that cover most of the island and go almost to the water. The very small islands tend to be too small and have little or no beach for landing. But ones like Rock Island are ideal because they have a beach, big boulders, and some open areas at higher elevation for taking in the view. Little George Head Island was another fine island. Though it lacked a nice beach (at least at high tide, see eighteenth photo) it had lots of great rocks of all sizes (nineteenth and twentieth photos), and a grassy open area for taking in the big views (twenty-first photo). But the best thing about this island was our most unusual find. I heard Vince call out, "Here's something you might want to see and I don't know what it is." Statements like that always precede something interesting. I love seeing things that I've never seen before. There, on the ground in front of Vince above the seaweed were two purple things shaped like pickles with small spots. The longer one was about 10 inches long and the shorter maybe 7 inches long. See twenty-second photo. As we stared at them, the larger one started moving as if it was breathing! What I found most fascinating about ocean life are those things that are somewhere between being a plant and an animal and this was just such a find. Vince thought they were sea cucumbers. We later verified that he was correct. I believe the pair we found are orange-footed sea cucumbers which are the most abundant along the eastern coast of North America.
Paddling northeast, we passed several islands before stopping at what I think might have been Devil Island. There are few things I could be less certain of so don't quote me on this but it was an extremely nice island with a high vantage point, no mosquitos, and an easy beach landing on the west side. We pulled ashore around high tide, then picked a nice sunny rock for eating lunch. The breeze was gently blowing on this sunny spot so Norma and I took a short nap while Vince explored. I can't say I've every slept on a more comfortable rock.
Norma observed the barnacles close up. We knew that if we touched their mouths, they would move a bit but what we didn't know until that day is that when submerged, a leafy tongue-like appendage shoots out from its mouth every half second or so as if it is grabbing for microscopic food. But this "tongue" is very fine and one needs to get very close to observe it.
Upon leaving, we checked out the north side of the island and found some sticks and buoys that someone tried to turn into a piece of art. See twenty-third photo.
The three of us continued back to the launch area, passing various islands along the way. The wind probably never got about 8 mph and the waves were not more than 6 inches high. I generally wouldn't recommend this area for beginners because with a strong wind, the water can get quite rough but today's conditions were most benign.
Vince sang us a very long pirate song.
After 7 hours of paddling, exploring, eating, and sleeping, we had only kayaked 8.5 miles but it was a very scenic trip and well worth the time spent. Vince managed to collect well over a dozen stray lobster buoys and a lot of trash. Norma and I collected some trash too but nowhere near as much as Vince.
Months later, I learned that
It is illegal to remove any gear found washed up on the shore, no matter how badly damaged. Lobstermen periodically collect their stranded gear from beaches and shore line. Most gear bears identification of some sort so the owner can be notified. The item most frequently stolen are the buoys.
- from Lobstering Facts
By mid-afternoon, the boat ramp was very busy. Kayakers were coming and going along with several lobstermen. Getting a vehicle in and out of the launch area was a bit challenging being as the roads weren't very wide and some of the lobstermen had trailers.
We loaded up the boats, returned to the house, changed clothes, then returned to Old Quarry Ocean Adventures. Here I asked a woman about kayaking options in the Oceanville area near their store.
Just a short distance from the outfitter was the trail head for the Settlement Quarry Preserve. The three of us walked the wooded (first photo) and granite paths, learning about its history.
Stonington Granite was formed at least 350 million years ago, when what is now coastal Maine was geologically active.
In the great expanse of geologic time, the several thousand feet of overlying rock has been gradually eroded inch by inch, so that the granite is now exposed.
Part of that erosion was caused by a continental ice sheet. Glacial geologists estimate that 20,000 years ago the ice was 1-2 miles thick at the present Maine coast.
This quarry was an active industrial site from the beginning of the 20th century through the 1920's, briefly active again in the 1960's, with a last effort in 1980.
- from sign at preserve
We also learned a little about Crotch Island, which we paddled to earlier in the day.
The McGuire Family was active in the local quarry industry for more than 60 years. Frank McGuire moved to Deer Isle in 1903 to manage the cutting shed at the Settlement Quarry...Frank and his two brothers, Thomas and James McGuire, bought the Benvenue quarry on Crotch Island in 1922 and founded the Deer Island Granite Corporation. They later acquired the Settlement Quarry. These brothers managed the quarry through its most successful years when granite was needed for court house columns, building blocks for buildings and bridges, and finally for President J.F. Kennedy's memorial at Arlington Cemetery.
- from sign at preserve
From an overlook at the quarry, we had a nice view below of Webb Cove, where we planned to launch from tomorrow. See second photo.
Trails at the quarry were home to numerous mushrooms. See third photo. We later found that many of the trails in the area were rich in a variety of them.
Back at the house, Vince prepared another fine meal.
Not needing our assistance (the kitchen is small and Vince is big), Norma and I went for a walk in downtown Stonington. It was near the 1825 low tide so we looked to see what we could find in the town's muddy tidepools. Not much. See first photo. We saw numerous mussels (second photo) and a crab (third photo). During our stay, we saw a few crabs but they were all small compared to Chesapeake Bay crabs. Interestingly, we saw no lobsters...just lobster parts. Throughout the week, we never saw any live lobsters. I guess they just live in deeper waters.
We spoke to a couple sitting outside of the town library. They said that even though the library was closed, they could pick up an internet signal.
Norma and I passed a miniature town with buildings each about two feet tall. See fourth photo.
We ate a delicious dinner then called it a night.
Day Three, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
After sleeping in, Vince made us a hearty breakfast to get us through another busy day.
Bowen and Kellie got an early start and were on their way to Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, Canada before Norma and I got up.
Vince, Norma, and I drove back to the outfitter and paid $5 per boat to launch plus $7 per car to park.
I found a fuzzy white caterpillar. See first photo.
Vince (second photo), Norma, and I paddled out of Webb Cove just south of Buckmaster Neck at 0945. At around the same time, the outfitter was taking out a group of about 5.
Turning northeast at Channel Rock, we headed out to Little Sheep Island to do a little exploring on land. There was a sandy beach area on the west side of the island (third photo) that would be underwater in a half hour. The north side had much more beach (fourth photo) and in particular, the west end would have been better for landing. On some high ground, I found a perfectly intact starfish about 7 inches wide. See fifth photo. Not sure how it got there but with this and so many dead sea urchins found far above the high tide water line, I'm guessing birds carried them.
We headed west to Hatch Cove then under the Oceanville Road bridge. The outfitter told us we should only try to paddle this area within 2 hours of high tide, which for that day was 1302. It was a little after 1100 and we had no trouble getting through. On the northeast side of the bridge, we saw a replica of an Easter Island statue. See sixth photo.
Continuing west of Oceanville island, we hugged the shore of the northeast side of Stonington. The flood tide pushed us under the route 15 bridge into Holt Pond. Here, we found a small island for eating lunch and taking a nap until the tide changed. The sleeping rock I found was not as good as yesterday's. Vince explored the rest of the pond, which was not particularly interesting though we did find several small crabs and some minnows. This might have been brackish water.
As we left, the ebb tide gently pulled us out of the pond and back under the bridge.
We paddled through the west side of the Inner Harbor (yes, there is another besides the one in Baltimore) to Warren Point. Then we paddled across Southeast Harbor past Polypod Island. This area had more sailboats and less lobster boats than yesterday.
Paddling east on the north end of the Southeast Harbor, I headed towards a grayish lobster buoy about 25 meters in front of me. I saw it and didn't pay any attention to it. We had seen hundreds of lobster buoys and this was just one more. But this one looked different. Norma said, "Saki, do you see that?" I paid more attention and noticed that the buoy looked like a face. Then it went under. It was a seal! Unfortunately, Vince missed it but he would later see one or two more that Norma and I didn't see.
We landed at the Edgar M. Tennis Preserve. There is a really great little sheltered beach area for landing just southeast of the private residence (labeled in the brochure map). See first photo. Upon landing, turn to your left and walk up the rocks to get to the trail. See second photo. Don't walk a straight path to the sign since on the other side it says to not use this route to get to the beach. Seems like it should say this on both sides of the sign for those of use that arrive via boat.
We explored the trails in this scenic area (third photo), checking out the mushrooms (fourth photo) then stopping at the Foundation of Pickering Farm and the cemetery. There were numerous apple trees. We ended up walking about 3.5 miles.
The little thumbnail of a peninsula make for a nice rocky overlook. See fifth photo.
By the time we were ready to leave, the tide had dropped a good bit and much of the previously submerged aquatic vegetation was now above the water. See sixth photo.
From the beach, we saw a fine sailing boat off in the distance amongst the multitude of lobster buoys. See seventh photo.
Crossing the Southeast Harbor, we paddled along the Oceanville shore to Coles Point, across Hatch Cove, then back to the launch area. To make our trip a little more enjoyable, Vince sang us another song.
What'll we do with a drunken sailor,
What'll we do with a drunken sailor,
What'll we do with a drunken sailor,
Earl-aye in the morning?
We put in 10.5 miles of kayaking.
After taking out the boats, we saw someone on a stand-up paddle board, the first (and only) we'd seen in Maine. It seemed like a good way to get to one's boat moored out away from shore if you didn't have to carry much.
Back at the house, Vince prepared dinner.
After dinner, Bowen and Kellie returned. They enjoyed Lubec but found nothing of interest on Campobello Island. Bowen, Vince, Norma, and I played Bananagrams until it was time for bed.
Day Four, Thursday, September 1, 2011
Norma and I didn't arrive until late Monday. Bowen and Kellie would have to leave on Friday. We wanted to spend at least one full day together and today was the day.
We started things off with a fine blueberrry pancake breakfast prepared by Norma. I figure that when in Maine, one is obligated to eat blueberries and lobster. Maybe next time we'll have lobster pancakes.
Our first stop was Burnt Cove Market. Stonington is pretty remote so if you need gasoline or groceries, you'll want to know how to get to this place. It also has a small recycling area. Interestingly, they have machines that read bar codes on cans and bottles then give a receipt that one can take into the store to trade in for cash. But these machines only work for cans and bottles purchased in Maine. In fact, there is a heavy fine for putting recycleable material into these machines if they are not from Maine. Unfortunately, we saw no place to recycle items not purchased from Maine so instead, we brought them home with us to Maryland. A trip was also made to the Stonington Dump nearby.
We used Vince's car to help haul trash. Not needing it anymore, he rode with Bowen and Kellie or Norma and me (he alternated vehicles since we both wanted him), leaving his car at the market.
Our next stop was Crockett Cove Woods Preserve,
...a "100-acre wood" and sanctuary filled with a wide variety of ferns, mosses, and lichens. Famed designer and painter Emily Muir donated this "fog forest" to The Nature Conservancy.
- from Island Heritage Trust website
This was perhaps the most scenic of the preserves we visited all week.
First photo: Bowen leads the way through the meandering trails in the woods.
Second photo: The paths were easy to follow. Roots often lay near the surface, giving us something to trip over. But if you fell and landed off the trail you might have a soft fall as the moss provided a spongey landing.
Third photo: Orangey-red mushrooms.
Fourth photo: I think I once ordered Chinese food having these in it.
Fifth photo: Not sure what this is.
Sixth photo: The photographer gets his photo taken.
The 5 of us headed out to see Blue Hill Falls which is something that I really wanted to see. We parked on the northeast side of the road from the bridge then climbed down the rocks on the northwest side to get a better view. See first photo.
Back in 2009, Norma and I took my tandem in Reversing Falls near Lubec. This is an area where, like Blue Hill Falls, has strong tidal currents that get funneled through a narrow opening, creating whitewater conditions that change with the tide. See second photo. I wanted to come back in a day or two and play in the surf but Norma and Vince weren't so eager (they are smarter than me). I'm guessing the current 2.25 hours before high tide was moving at about 7-8 mph. Rocks created some nice high and low points where a skilled kayaker could surf, creating a state of equilibrium where their downward fall was balanced out by the flood tide pushing them back.
As luck turns out, I met a kayaker ready to try just that. He saw my Maryland license plate and asked if I was associated with the Chesapeake Paddlers Association. I said I was then we introduced ourselves. His name is Brim (third photo). When I said I was Saki, he said he knew of me. Small world...especially if you're a kayaker. Brim set out in his sea kayak to attack the waves. See fourth photo. He did a very good job in his first few attempts. See surfing video. When he missed the mark, he managed to keep upright and just ride the waves until he could move off to the side, return, then position himself for another attempt. After watching him paddle for several miutes, we bid farewell and promised to contact each other later.
How dangerous is it to surf the falls? In my opinion, it isn't easy but I also don't think it is particularly dangerous if you can keep a level head, have the necessary skills, have the right equipment (suitable boat, PFD, and helmet), and know the tide. I would try to paddle it 1-3 hours before high tide. Why then? For one thing, the launch area is on the northwest side of the bridge and the easiest way to get to the surfing crest (about 30 meters west of the bridge) is to come at it behind the northwest side of the bridge and wait in an eddy until you're ready to bust a move. If you miss, you can just make your way back to the northwest side of Salt Pond and paddle in the calm areas near the shore then come back for another attempt or to the launch area if you decide it is too much to handle. I think paddling shortly before high tide is safest because there is less chance of encounting rocks if you capsize. It would be wise to see how things look at low tide so you can identify rocks that could be a problem later. But keep in mind that the difference between high and low tide will often be 7.5 and 12.5 feet so rocks that are exposed at low tide may be covered by several feet of water at or near high tide. Check Blue Hill Harbor Tides before launching and try to shoot for a day when the high tide is really high. What kind of boat is best for surfing in this area? I'm not so sure about that. Of course a whitewater boat will give you great maneuverability but a sea kayak will give you the speed to maintain equilibrium for a longer period of time. The videos I've seen of surfing in areas such as this showed regular 17 foot long sea kayaks paddling these crests and doing so quite well. I also think a fairly long whitewater boat might do well. I don't think a 6 foot long whitewater play boat would be a good choice but I could well be wrong.
On the northeast side of the bridge over the falls, I found some Queen Anne's Lace flowers. Some were looking more like a bird's nest than a flower. See fifth photo.
Watching Brim burn off so many calories while kayaking worked up our appetite so we stopped for lunch in Blue Hill at "66 Steak and Seafood." See sixth photo. If you order the blackened fish sandwich, be sure to ask them to go light on the spices unless you REALLY love spicy fish.
We drove out to the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory then took the escalator up to the top. Recall that we'd seen this bridge and drove over it on our first day. But now we had an up-close and personal look. See first photo. From the observatory, we could see 360 degree views of the surrounding area.
Second photo: Norma and I in the observatory, feeling like we're on top of the world!.
Third photo: Looking east, across the water.
Fourth photo: To our north, almost a mile away lies the town of Bucksport.
Fifth photo: Also to our north, not quite so far, is Fort Knox, our next destination.
Sixth photo: A wider view to our north puts things in perspective.
Seventh photo: Look down. Can you see my car? It is the one with the banana on top.
The bridge passes over the Penobscot River, the longest river in Maine. Alongside the Penobscot Narrows Bridge is the older Waldo-Hancock Bridge, the first long-span suspension bridge in Maine, opened in 1931, costing taxpayers less than a million dollars to build. This bridge is no longer in use. See eighth photo.
In mid-2003, MaineDOT [Department of Transportation] was part way through a major overhaul of the historic bridge and discovered severe corrosion in the cables, previously hidden by protective sheathing. Engineers agreed that the cables were too corroded to save and that the bridge would need to be replaced as soon as possible. For safety, the Waldo-Hancock Bridge's legal load limit was reduced immediately from 100,000 to 24,000 pounds.
- from sign at bridge
The problem was solved with a good dose of northern efficiency.
The award-winning [Penobscot Narrows Bridge] structure was planned, funded, permitted, designed, built and opened to traffic in only 42 months. Bridge opened December 30, 2006. Observatory opened May 19, 2007.
- from plaque at bridge
From the observatory, we could see Cadillac Mountain, where Bowen and Kellie visited just two days prior.
After touring the observatory, we went to Fort Knox. I was expecting to see gold but that is the Fort Knox in Kentucky. This is a totally different animal.
Fort Knox, [Maine] named after Revolutionary War Major General Henry Knox, rose on the banks of the Penobscot River over a 25 year period beginning in 1844. Fort Knox developed as part of a federal system of forts to protect the nation's major rivers and harbors. In 1779 and 1814, England had invaded the Penobscot River and its valley to take control of eastern Maine. As the wealth of the Penobscot's cities and towns grew in later years, its protection thus became an important defense strategy.
The purpose of Fort Knox was to defend and defeat with its cannons and, later, its torpedoes. But enemy ships did not appear while Fort Knox stood watch. Many of the cannon emplacements remained empty. Fort Knox's military might would prove to be nearly out-of-date even as granite cutters, masons, laborers, and engineers worked on the fort in the mid 1860s.
- from sign at Fort Knox visitors center
The 5 of us walked around the fort and through its tunnels.
First photo: Purple flowers near the visitor center.
Second photo: Norma had a nice view from the stone walls which she climbed, despite unobvious signs prohibiting such activity.
Third photo: From the walls, we had a nice view of Bucksport across the river.
Fourth photo: Norma, Vince, Kellie, and Bowen, with Bucksport in the back.
Fifth photo: Old cannon emplacements with the modern Penobscot Narrows Bridge in the background.
Sixth photo: Bowen looks down the muzzle of a Rodman cannon for a closer view as Vince hurries over to fire it.
Seventh photo: View of Bucksport from the top of the fort.
We saw numerous cannon foundations and a few big guns in pretty good shape, including the huge 15-inch Rodman cannons, the largest muzzle-loading smoothbore artillery pieces made at the time.
With the cannon's tube alone weighing 50,000 pounds, it is no wonder that a special crane had to be erected on Fort Knox's wharf to lift it when the cannon arrived by boat in 1866.
Foundries cast about 300 15-inch Rodmans during the 1860s. Twelve soldiers were needed to fire a 15-inch Rodman. The distance that a solid cannonball or hollow shot could be fired varied, depending on the cannon's elevation and weight of the charge. With a 100-pound charge, an 1880 heavy artillery manual states that a 15-inch Rodman at 20 degrees elevation could fire a 450-pound solid cannonball an astonishing 5,579 yards, or more than three miles!
- from sign at Fort Knox
We drove over to The Morse Farm on Blue Hill Mountain for a short hike. As we walked up, we heard music from the Blue Hill Fairgrounds down below. Supposedly, there was a firetower that one could climb to but instead, we only found a radio tower.
First photo: Norma making her way up the trail.
Second photo: Bowen and Kellie enjoy the view of the town of Blue Hill and Blue Hill Bay.
Third photo: Norma nears the summit, which lies 500 feet above the trailhead. Notice Third Pond in the back with its characteristic large island in the middle.
Fourth photo: We tried to catch a nice sunset view but thick woods prevented this.
We arrived back in Stonington around 2100 to find the restaurants closed. We figured that lobstermen get up before dawn to start working so they probably don't stay up late. Once again, Vince cooked a fine dinner.
Day Five, Friday, September 2, 2011
Yesterday, Vince left his car at the market. The plan was for one of us to drive him there so he could pick it up. But being the early morning active person that he is, he decided to run a mile there and retrieve it himself before we awoke. I guess that's why he's inVINCEible.
Bowen and Kellie bid their farewells as Vince, Norma, and me set off for a day of new adventures.
We went to the local Stonington farmers market. We expected something really small but it seemed like half the town was there. It was quite impressive. Lots of fresh fruit and veggies, crafts, meat, and folks representing various non-profit organizations. The town really has a sense of community.
While we didn't plan on doing any kayaking that day, we wanted to get in one more day of paddling and hopefully see lots of seals. Norma read that the islands just south of Little Deer Isle were a good place to see them so we scouted out a potential launch site in Eggemoggin, a town whose name sounds like it is straight out of a Dr. Seuss story.
We did find one area at the northwest end of Eggemoggin Road but after talking to a couple of locals, we found that the area isn't really open to the public...at least they don't have a parking area for kayakers.
Next, we drove to Pine Hill Preserve.
Pine Hill has been recognized as a site of national geological and botanical significance. Both the rock (peridotite) and the plants that grow on this type of rock are very unusual. Some plants growing here occur no where else in Maine.
- from Pine Hill Preserve brochure
We walked on a road to a big, open, rocky area where many of the rocks were covered in graffiti. See first photo...can you find Vince? It was then a short climb to the top where Norma and I (second photo) had a nice view of the Deer Isle - Sedgwick Suspension Bridge to our northeast (third photo) and the Causeway Beach to our southeast (fourth photo). To our north lay an old cemetery...one of many we saw on our trip. See fifth photo. There are lots of dead people living in Maine.
As we drove through Brooksville, we passed a boat ramp that I just had to investigate. It was called Betsy's Cove. There was parking for about 5 vehicles, a boat ramp, and a gravelly beach. But there was also a sign posted stating that a permit was required, costing $25 for residents and $250 for non-residents! I guess residency has its benefits.
Our next stop was Goose Falls on Cape Rosier. This was another set of tidal falls. But unlike Blue Hill Falls, this one was benign. High tide would be at 1451 and we were there at 1230. Water was indeed being channeled into Goose Pond but rather slowly. Not very impressive. Several days later, however, I checked out the falls via a satellite photo. The photo was from ebb tide and I saw about 40 meters of whitewater.
We drove across Goose Falls Road to Holbrook Island Sanctuary. The three of us ate lunch at a pier that looked out over Holbrook Island. If we didn't paddle south of Little Deer Isle tomorrow, my goal was to launch from Brooksville on the east end of Smith Cove, explore the islands, visit Holbrook Island Sanctuary, paddle through Goose Falls, and maybe see the Dice Head Lighthouse. But after seeing the pitiful falls and the overly calm view from the pier that looked a little reservoir-ish, I was opting for the south-of-Little Deer Isle kayaking option.
Norma wanted to visit The Good Life Center, a non-profit education center whose mission is to perpetuate the philosophies and lifeways promoted and exemplified by Helen and Scott Nearing, two of America's most inspirational practitioners of simple, frugal and purposeful living. Building on the Nearing legacy, The Good Life Center encourages and supports individual and collective efforts to live sustainably into the future.
At the center, we visited a yurt (first and second photos), got a tour of the garden (third and fourth photos), saw the greenhouse (fifth photo), went into the Nearing house (sixth photo), and saw a video about the Nearings.
I really liked what Scott Nearing said when he gave a lecture to a bunch of hippies in the 1970s, "Pay as you go." Basically, he meant not to get yourself in debt and to live within your means. What he said back then is soooo true now.
A garter snake slithered by my feet near the garden. This was the only reptile I saw during our stay in Maine. No turtles.
We drove just up the street to see the Eliot Coleman Four Season Farm. Norma has read one of Coleman's books about winter farming and was eager to see how successful it is in a place like Maine. She figures that one really needs to know what they are doing to have a successful farm in a place so far north.
We parked next to a car carrying two hand-built boats that looked more like works of fine art rather than someting utilitarian. See first photo.
The farm was impressive. It isn't very big but they really know how to make good use of space on their mere 1.5 acres. See second photo.
Part of their northern success is a result of large greenhouses. See third photo.
Six full-time employees run the place. The soil is rich and fairly free of weeds or pests. They also have some very large (Rhode Island red?) chickens. See fourth photo.
Just outside of the farm stand, I saw a writing spider. See fifth photo. I think the last time I saw one of these was on Smith Island.
Three women (I'm assuming they were mother, daughter, and grandmother) were struggling to get the vegetables they purchased on their bicycles. They asked if I'd be willing to drop off their veggies at their house and I obliged. It wasn't far.
Vince, Norma, and I drove back to the Holbrook Island Sanctuary and walked on the Summit Trail to Backwoods Mountain. Not much of a view from the summit but the trail itself was very nice.
First photo: Colorful vegetation.
Second photo: The easy-to-follow orange-blazed Summit Trail.
Third photo: Me on a walkabout.
Fourth photo: A pink mushroom.
Our next stop was the Beaver Flowage Trail in the sanctuary. We saw no beavers but we did walk around an area where some might live. See Norma and Vince in the fifth photo. This wasn't so impressive. We thought we'd at least see the pond that the trail wraps around but the most we ever saw were a few cattails. Walking back to the car on the road, we had a better view of the pond. See sixth photo.
We headed back to Stonington, making sure to get to a restaurant while it was still early. Our choice was the Fisherman's Friend. I ordered the lobster primavera which had too much butter but was otherwise good. In addition to filling my fat belly, I also filled my brain by learning a little more about the area.
Deer Isle is a beautiful island community of 24,000 acres and 112 miles of shoreline, comprising the towns of Deer Isle and Stonington, and outlying islands. It is a group of small communities with 2,400 residents that make up the year round population. Lobstering is the current mainstay of the island.
The first people to live on Deer Isle 6,100 years ago were Native Americans. Native Americans were living in various locations among the islands when the first European settlers arrived in 1755. The settlers became boat builders, seafarers and fisherman. Deer Isle was established in 1789, the fourth town in Hancock County.
- from restaurant menu
Back at the house, we played one game of Blokus before bed.
Day Six, Saturday, September 3, 2011
On our final day, we finished off some leftovers for breakfast then set to getting the place in order so I could get my cleaning deposit back.
We did laundry, washed all the dishes/utensils, wiped down the stove and tables, swept, etc. I can say without a doubt that we left with the place being cleaner than when we arrived.
We dropped off more trash and recycling in town then headed over to Barred Island Preserve. It was a scenic mile walk to Barred Island from the trail head.
First photo: Norma on a trail surrounded by pine and moss.
Second photo: Heading to Barred Island.
Third photo: Ferns!
Fourth photo: This place would make a killing as a Christmas tree farm.
Along the way, we noticed how there were so many trees with roots near the surface. Might it be because there were large slabs of granite just below?
We saw a leopard frog. See fifth photo.
Near the south end of the peninsula, we could see Isle au Haut off in the distance. If we had one more day in Stonington, this is the place I would have wanted to visit via bicycle.
Also at the south end, we walked on the beach and on the rocks, checking out what the tide left for us to see. If there was one good place to explore tidepools in the area and find interesting salt water life, this was it. It was 1030 and low tide was at 0828. They say that Barred Island is only accessible within 3 hours of high tide.
There were some really nice views along the beach.
Sixth photo: Vince by the seaweed.
Seventh photo: Norma hoping to spot a seal.
Eighth photo: Vince walks to the island on a section that will be underwater in another hour.
Ninth photo: The west side of the connector to the island.
Amongst the rocks, I found
Tenth photo: A hermit crab.
Eleventh photo: A dead purple and orange starfish.
Twelfth photo: A crab.
Thirteenth photo: Some strange small black bugs that gather in clusters.
Fourteenth photo: Red coral?
Fifteenth photo:A clam with a moustache.
Sixteenth and seventeenth photos: What I think are mussel eggs but I could be way off.
Eighteenth photo: Interesting aquatic vegetation.
Nineteenth photo: Mussels amongst the seaweed.
Of course I wasn't the only one finding interesting things. Vince found what he thinks might be a cluster of dried up mussel eggs. See twentieth photo.
Norma found a starfish in good condition which she thinks was dead that I missed. She photographed the top in the twenty-first photo and the bottom in the twenty-second photo.
It was fun exploring the tidepools (twenty-third photo) but it was a far cry from those in California which had living starfish, sea anemones, and other interesting life.
As we walked back on the trail to our cars (twenty-fourth photo), we found more interesting mushrooms. See twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth photos.
Vince and Norma carried back trash they found on the island. I did my part by not adding to the existing trash.
Our next and final stop was the Causeway Beach at the north end of North Deer Isle. Here, we drove onto the west side beach and launched our kayaks.
Unlike the other days, this day was cloudy. There was a 30% chance of rain in the afternoon and it was noticeably cooler...maybe in the high 60s.
As we paddled southwest on the north side of Carney Island (first photo) then southwest towards Weed Point into the wind, the 12-24 inch waves tossed around my kayak and got me plenty soaked. We pulled over so I could put a spash jacket over my wetsuit before I got chilled. Vince's boat was riding more smoothly as it cut through the waves but my highly buoyant Cabo stayed on top, which Vince said made me and Norma a bit faster but also meant a more bouncy ride, especially for the person up front (me). Norma, on the other hand, stayed plenty dry and happy sitting in the back of the tandem. See second photo.
We paddled to Bar Island (third photo), the first of a set of islands that was supposedly home to many seals. We saw none. Continuing onwards, we made our way to Eaton Island, and the south side of Little Eaton Island before paddling to the north side cove of Pickering Island. Here in the cove, we felt no wind or waves. We returned back to Little Eaton Island, passing it on the north side, then ventured on to Sheep Island. Norma went ashore and reported numerous mosquitos. Not a single seal was seen by Norma or me though Vince thinks he saw one for a second.
The wind and waves died down significantly for our return trip along the south side of Little Deer Isle. See fourth photo.
As we approached Weed Point from the west, we saw a house resembling a lighthouse (fifth photo) with a giant metal shark statue closer to water level (sixth photo). There was also a Christmas tree decorated with lobster buoys (seventh photo).
A little closer to Weed Point, we saw some big granite boulders at the waterline with rich veins of quartz running through. See eighth photo.
As we rounded the east side of Carney Island and paddled north, Vince started singing another pirate/seaman song. He's not a bad singer. He sings loudly, with confidence, is more in-tune than me, and I can usually understand what he is saying. Check out this video of Vince before he becomes famous on American Idol.
We finished our trip completing 8.5 miles.
It was now time to say our final farewells. Vince would reMAINE in Maine for a few more days. Norma and I would start heading home. We wished each other the best.
On the way home, Norma wanted to make one final stop. We checked out Bagaduce Falls near North Brookville. The flow in these tidal falls was pretty impressive. Check out the Bagaduce Falls video I shot. No big crests like at Blue Hill Falls but a lot of water was moving at a pretty good pace. Best of all, there was a launch site right at the falls called the Brookville Public Landing. But we were done paddling, it was getting late, and we were hungry.
Just across the Bagaduce River, we stopped at a nice little outdoor food stand called Bagaduce Lunch where I ordered haddock fish and chips. Haddock is pretty common out there and I like it though it tastes like almost any other fish to me. They had picnic tables that overlooked the Bagaduce River. It was a quaint little small town hangout and nice way to end our visit to the area.
We drove back 13 hours, almost non-stop until we were home. Very little traffic.
At home, I cleaned out the gutters from all the debris that fell during Hurricane Irene, mowed the lawn, cleaned the kayak gear, and put things away.
It was 89 degrees, humid, and overcast. The weather in Maine was much much nicer.
Norma and I had a great trip with superfantastic weather. We got to see some really scenic views, spend time with good people, and get to know a little more about a very special part of Maine. It would have been awesome if we could have seen more critters but we can't have everything.